If you've ever been a fan of Extreme Championship Wrestling, chances are you've got some great memories of this influential promotion. ECW was one of the true "rock stars" of the wrestling industry, burning brightly for a few short years before eventually collapsing under its own weight. It began in February 1994, as the former Eastern Championship Wrestling---based in my home state of Pennsylvania---took a sharp turn "to the extreme", changing its name and attitude under the direction of Paul Heyman. It enjoyed a cult-like following during the early years, building a formidable reputation through local word-of-mouth and the fledgling Internet crowd (you know, back when 28.8K modems were all the rage). I'd heard of it by 1995 and was lucky enough to catch it at some God-awful hour on a local access network every week. Needless to say, I was hooked from the start.
ECW offered a much harder alternative to the floundering mid-1990s era of the much larger WWF and WCW promotions, with Heyman and company pushing their underdog status to the absolute limit. They stayed strong through the next few years, despite the increased competition of the two larger corporations (headed by Stone Cold Steve Austin and the nWo, respectively). The ECW wrestlers' dedication and heart ran circles around the product offered elsewhere, eventually leading them to a stab at their own pay-per-view, Barely Legal---it was just one more feather in the cap for a young company already known for great wrestling and terrific live shows.
Despite living within two hours of ECW headquarters in Philadelphia, I only took advantage of seeing them live when they came to my hometown of Harrisburg in 1998. It was a great evening highlighted by memorable matches, a near-riot started by The Dudley Boyz, and even buying dinner for Al Snow and Jerry Lynn after the show (e-mail me for the details). During the next few years, though, ECW took a turn for the worse. Money was down, checks bounced, and some of ECW's brightest stars had no choice but to work for "the competition". It wasn't long before the company went bankrupt, with all the rights and original footage being bought by WWE's president, Vince McMahon (NOTE: McMahon is also the current owner of WCW's wrestling library). Fans still wore the T-shirts, made signs and chanted the promotion's name, but ECW was nothing more than a memory once it went under.
Things looked up when WWE released The Rise and Fall of ECW on DVD, a 2-disc collection of matches and true stories from inside the influential promotion. The DVD went on to become one of WWE's most popular releases of all time, shattering expectations and sales records. Like any sensible businessman, McMahon went ahead with an idea that had been floating around since ECW's demise: get the gang back together for a show, tape it and watch the money roll in. It was called One Night Stand, finally premiering on PPV the night of June 12, 2005 in front of a packed house in New York City. The audience ate it up, lots of people bought it and, surprise surprise, it received glowing reviews all across the Internet (I was lucky enough to catch it on PPV with a handful of ECW loyalists, and we certainly agreed). Running just over 150 minutes in length, there was a little something for everyone here: great matches, dangerous brawling, familiar faces and a whole slew of busted tables. Here's how it went down:
THE HAMMERSTEIN BALLROM, NEW YORK CITY
Introduction w/ Joey Styles and Mick Foley
Overall, it was quite a packed evening. One Night Stand certainly wasn't a perfect show, but it was still the best product that WWE's put out this year. Here's the good news: There were a handful of standout brawls and moments, especially matches #2, 4, 6 and 7 and the two in-ring promos with RVD and Paul Heyman. The crowd was also on fire, keeping things entertaining and very true to "the good old days". Several of the vintage highlight clips and the "ECW Remembers" segment were also thoughtful inclusions, though they ran a bit thick during the middle of the show. Joey Styles' play-by-play commentary was the icing on the cake, as "the voice of ECW" did a fantastic job from top to bottom (Mick Foley was nice to hear, though he was a bit too laid-back to provide great color commentary). It seemed as if everyone was there, wrestling or otherwise---including Sabu, Taz (one "z", not two), Joey Styles, Mick Foley (as color commentator), and even the biker guy who was at pretty much every ECW show (although I couldn't spot the guy in the straw hat anywhere). Overall, an entertaining spectacle---it wasn't quite as surreal as when ECW "invaded" Monday Night Raw at the same venue some years back, but it was pretty darn close.
Of course, it wasn't all highlight material. Matches #3 and 5 couldn't really live up to the hype---especially the former, which actually received audible boos from the crowd---and the majority of the earlier matches were much too short for their own good (ironically, the ending segment was a bit too long). Disappointingly, there's also been a few edits to the DVD, including the altered entrance theme for The Sandman (originally "Enter Sandman" by Metallica, removed for right$ i$$ue$). Also, a short backstage segment with ECW personalities Danny Doring and Roadkill has been removed, along with most of the remaining profanity that hadn't been bleeped during the original broadcast. I don't know why WWE thought that longtime ECW fans couldn't handle a bit of language, as they could have easily slapped a TV-MA rating on it without sacrificing the buyrate.
For all the negative points, though, One Night Stand is still a great show that fans of ECW should really enjoy...at least the select few who were too cheap to order the PPV. Sadly, this is pretty much where the good news ends: for all intents and purposes, One Night Stand is a lackluster DVD that pales in comparison to The Rise and Fall of ECW. In addition to a mediocre video transfer, this release also suffers from a lack of interesting extras and a fairly dull presentation. Sure, WWE may have gotten this one out in record time, but I'd have gladly waited a few months for a stronger effort. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
WWE usually does a good job in the technical department, but One Night Stand isn't one of their best efforts. Presented in its original 1.33:1 fullscreen aspect ratio, the transfer exhibits accurate colors and a decent amount of image detail...for the most part. A few glaring digital problems were easily spotted, including some interlacing issues, jagged edges and some nasty compression artifacts (especially visible during the wrestlers' entrances, including the enlarged example seen here). I don't remember these problems being an issue during the original broadcast, but the worst examples of this are ugly and distracting. It's not terrible, though, especially considering ECW was never a visually stunning show to begin with. Still, the presentation could have been much improved.
Thankfully, the sound quality is much better, preserving the electric live experience quite well. The English Dolby Surround presentation offers a strong atmosphere, including clear dialogue and punchy music and sounds that seem slightly improved over the original broadcast. Just for the record: this footage can't be rated on the same scale as your typical Hollywood blockbuster, but it's very good by typical sports-related standards. No subtitles or Closed Captioning feature have been included, though an alternate play-by-play commentary is also offered in Spanish.
One Night Stand is fairly standard for WWE releases, offering nicely animated fullscreen menus (seen below) and smooth, simple navigation. Each match (and other major segment) has been given its own chapter---there's 21 in all during the 154-minute main feature---with no layer change detected during playback. This one-disc release is housed in a standard black keepcase, but I dare say that the cover art is one of the most boring and uninspired choices I've seen in quite some time. It's not just boring, it's "Panic Room 3-disc Special Edition boring". No inserts, save for a complete list of WWE pay-per-view events that won't interest ECW fans, have been included.
There's little to no extras of interest here, offering more proof that this DVD release was a major rush job. First up, fans are "treated" to the most useless "Audio Commentary" in DVD history (and that's saying something, believe me). It's advertised as an "alternate commentary from Justin Bradshaw Layfield" (the loudmouth guy in the business suit and cowboy hat), though it appears as if the production crew simply placed a microphone in the far corner of the balcony where the WWE superstars were seated. 80% of the time, there's nothing said at all---just the standard audio from the show, muffled to the point of incomprehensibility. Even when JBL offers his "commentary", it's nothing more than grade-school insults and obnoxious remarks that grow old very quickly.
To make matters worse, I could easily name about a dozen other options that would've fit in better. How about an alternate audio track that doesn't bleep out the scary cuss words? How about a group commentary from ECW wrestlers? How about some words from Paul Heyman, who could easily fill two full tracks with interesting stories? I can't believe that the WWE team thought a contribution from an annoying non-ECW personality should belong on this disc...but hey, these are the same geniuses that made me stop watching "sports entertainment" five years ago.
Moving on, there's also a pair of TV Spots for the event, followed by five 30-second Vignettes highlighting a few ECW wrestlers (Tommy Dreamer, Sabu, Rob Van Dam, Sandman and The Dudley Boyz). There's also the brief ECW Funeral segment shown a few months ago on WWE programming, and the bonus features close out with a rather useless Fan Segment featuring a few attendees professing their love for the promotion---a valiant gesture, but it's about as helpful as Total Request Live fans shouting out their favorite hits in front of MTV Studios. Overall, a rather dull batch of extras---once again, especially disappointing after the excellent Rise and Fall of ECW set.
On one hand, you've got a terrific "reunion show" starring the most influential and entertaining wrestling promotion of the 1990s, highlighted by great wrestling, terrific character moments and a red-hot crowd. On the other hand, you've got a terribly rushed DVD release, marred by minimal extras and a below-average visual presentation. It reeks of a quick cash-in by WWE, and that's quite a disappointment after their excellent work on The Rise and Fall of ECW. Still, it's the movie that sells the DVD, and hardcore ECW fans would have to be crazy to pass up this trip down memory lane. I'm still amazed that the true energy of the original ECW experience was captured so well---and even if the effect is watered down with future PPVs, fans can still look back on One Night Stand as a night to remember. If you recorded it during its original broadcast, don't bother...but everyone else should consider it Recommended.
Randy Miller III is a chair-swingin' art instructor hailing from Harrisburg, PA. To fund his DVD viewing habits, he also works on freelance graphic design and illustration projects. In his free time, Randy enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.